What Is Horseradish?

It's so intensely spicy, it can bring tears to your eyes!

Most of us have never eaten a spoonful of horseradish—but you’ve likely come across it spread between the layers of a  good old-fashioned deli sandwich. (It adds a special zing to our favorite Caramelized Ham & Swiss Buns!)

What is Horseradish, Anyway?

Horseradish is the root of a perennial plant in the Brassica family (which also includes mustard, wasabi, broccoli, and cabbage). The plant’s long, white root has almost no odor when it comes out of the ground, but its pungency is immediately noticeable as soon as you cut into it—giving off its signature nasal-clearing scent. The roots are harvested each spring and most of them are grated and preserved in vinegar for future use.

What Does Horseradish Taste Like?

Flavor-wise, grated horseradish is spicy—it only takes a tablespoon to bring tears to your eyes. But, unlike spicy peppers, the reaction is limited to a few moments, so you’ll be back to normal in no time. This makes horseradish almost addictive because it’s so intense for such a short period of time.

Horseradish is unique in the spice world because it isn’t spicy until you cut into it. Its volatile compounds (called isothiocyanates) are only released when they’re exposed to oxygen, generating the sinus-clearing “heat” you’ve come to know and love. Vinegar stops this reaction while also stabilizing the flavor, so most preserved horseradish recipes call for the addition of vinegar.

Fun fact: Your local sushi restaurant likely uses green-tinted horseradish in place of wasabi. The two have nearly identical flavors, but horseradish is cheaper to produce.

How to Cook With Horseradish

It has many uses in cooking, and it’s most popularly used to make a classic sauce for prime rib and other steak dishes. We love using grated horseradish as a deviled egg topping, in potato salad recipes and it’s practically obligatory in a Bloody Mary.

You’ll also find grated horseradish preserved in cream or mayonnaise as a sandwich spread. It’s an integral ingredient in cocktail sauce and spicy mustard.

How Do You Make Horseradish?

Homemade horseradish is simple to make: Grate horseradish using a Microplane grater or a food processor and combine it with vinegar. You can also add salt and sugar to create a more balanced flavor.

Pro tip: The longer you wait to add the vinegar, the spicier your preserved horseradish will be. A few minutes wait makes it fire-engine hot. Can’t take the heat? Add the vinegar immediately.

Is Horseradish Good for Your Health?

Horseradish is not only used for condiments, but it’s also prepared as medicine. Horseradish has been used to treat sinusitis, urinary tract infections and bronchitis. Some people have made tea from the flowers to fight off the common cold, while others grind the roots and apply them to the skin for joint pain relief.

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Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.